Wetlands

Wetlands Overview 2020: Judiciary is active, but remains ineffective

The highlight of the overview of wetlands in India in 2020 here (keeping aside the Wetlands related developments in Maharashtra in 2020 and Positive wetlands related developments in 2020, on both these subjects we have published separate reports), is that the National Green Tribunal (NGT), various High Courts and even the Supreme Court have been quite active on wetlands front, but there is very little impact of this on the wetlands and their governance in India. This is basically because, and this is the second key highlight of this overview, the central and state governments have shown almost no interest, understanding or will to protect the wetlands. This is in spite of the huge number of new Indian wetlands brought under the Ramsar convention in 2020, since experience and also this overview shows that Ramsar convention does not seem to particularly help the fate of the wetlands. The third highlight of the overview is that there is a lot of civil society effort, both in terms of advocacy and work on ground for the protection of wetlands in India. In fact the legal action that we see in the NGT and Courts is largely due to their efforts. In fact whatever little positive developments we see here is coming from community and civil society efforts.

We hope this situation significantly changes in 2021. Let us hope the judicial action becomes more effective, and leads to significant positive change in the governance of wetlands. Wetlands are too important to let them be destroyed the way we are doing, they become even more important in changing climate. But it seems the society as a whole do not seem to understand their importance, except the communities who are directly dependent on the wetlands, but they have so little if any voice in decisions regarding the wetlands. It’s a bleak scene, but let us hope it changes for better soon.

This Overview has four broad sections: key government actions, Legal developments, Other developments and Studies & reports. The first three sections each start with action at National level, followed by state level actions. The state level actions have been grouped according to regions: north, south, east, west and north-east. In some instances we have grouped all the reports related to a specific wetland under one heading, for example, Sukhna Lake or Najafgarh Jheel. Most of the information is from news reports the links for which are embedded, but in some cases it also comes from other sources and also comments. 

GOVERNMENT ACTIONS: CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

MoEF notifies new Wetland Rules, asks states to set up authority MoEF has notified Wetland Rules 2017 on Jan 6, 2020 and directed all States-UTs to set up authority to form strategies for conservation and wise use of wetlands within their jurisdiction. The authority will prepare a list of all wetlands of the state or UT within 3 months. The authority will include one expert each, nominated by the state govt, in wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning & socio-economics. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/centre-notifies-new-wetland-conservation-rules-asks-states-uts-to-set-up-authority/articleshow/73161225.cms (6 Jan 2020) The guidelines can be seen here. http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/final-version-and-printed-wetland-guidelines-rules-2017-03.01.20.pdf 

10 more Ramsar sites The 10 new ones are Nandur Madhameshwar, a first for Maharashtra; Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab; and Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar in Uttar Pradesh. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/37-indian-wetlands-declared-sites-of-international-importance-under-ramsar-javadekar/article30675881.ece (28 Jan 2020) https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/feb/18/india-to-propose-names-of-10-more-wetlands-for-recognition-under-ramsar-convention-2105103.html  (18 Feb. 2020)

Guidelines to help states identify wetlands The guidelines come just ahead of Feb. 2. The document aims to guide states in preparing a list of wetlands; identifying wetlands for notification under the Wetlands Rules, 2017; delineating wetlands, wetlands complexes and zone of influence; developing a list of activities to be regulated and permitted; and developing an integrated management plan for wetlands, which are rich reservoirs of biodiversity.

The guidelines says that all wetlands, irrespective of their location, ownership, biodiversity, size or ecosystem services values, can be notified under the Wetlands Rules 2017, except river channels, paddy fields, human-made water bodies specifically constructed for drinking water, aquaculture, salt production, recreation, irrigation, wetlands falling within areas covered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 & the CRZ Notification, 2011. https://scroll.in/article/949988/indias-guidelines-on-wetlands-will-allow-states-to-decide-what-counts-as-prohibited-activities (22 Jan 2020)

Wetlands along the Central Asian Flyway Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) has been given ‘star species’ status by experts in order to conserve the species and its habitat, under the National Action Plan for Conservation of Migratory Birds and their habitats along ‘Central Asian Flyway’ (CAF) 2018 – 2023.

Central Asia Flyway map. The Federal.

Flyways are migratory paths of birds, which travel from one part of the world to another in search of food & hospitable habitats, & these paths include breeding areas, stop-over areas & wintering areas. The CAF, which largely passes through Indian sub-continent, is the shortest flyway in the world. “It passes through 30 countries and ends with Indian sub-continent,” says S Balachandran, an ornithologist of BNHS and the author of ‘Indian Bird Migration Atlas’.

Close to 200 water bird species use the CAF, and this includes at least 30 threatened and near-threatened species. In India, in 17 states, where this flyway passes through, the scientists have identified 48 wetlands, which needs to be conserved immediately. The observations comes during the 15 day Asian Waterfowl Census (AWC), a citizen science project carried across the continent. https://thefederal.com/features/encroachment-of-water-bodies-a-threat-to-aquatic-birds/ (20 Jan. 2020)

STATE GOVERNMENTS

NORTH INDIA

Uttar Pradesh Agra bird sanctuary declared Ramsar site Soor Sarovar also called Keetham, just outside Agra on the Agra-Delhi NH 2, has been declared a “Ramsar site”. This is the 8th wetland in UP to be declared as a Ramsar site.

Declared a national bird sanctuary in 1991 by the state forest dept, the entire lake – pentagonal in shape – is formed in a catchment area of 7.13 square km. With artificially created islands for shelter and breeding grounds to the migratory birds, the lake is home to more than 106 species of migratory and resident birds. The site is important for bird species which migrate on the CAF with over 30,000 water birds known to visit the reservoir annually. Besides supporting numerous resident & migratory birds, the sanctuary has around 300 pythons & over 60 species of fish. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agra/in-big-boost-to-conservation-agra-bird-sanctuary-declared-ramsar-site/articleshow/79214265.cms (14 Nov 2020)

Field work initiated to propose Dhanauri as Ramsar site Officials from Wetland International and the state forest dept on Sept. 7 2020, begun ground inspections and terrain analysis to make a case for Dhanauri to be declared as a Ramsar site and a sarus crane sanctuary. The officials, aided by gram panchayat members from neighbouring villages, collected water samples and demarcated the coordinates of the area to draw a ‘habitat map’ of the wetland. Once the habitat map is developed, the forest dept will observe the land ownerships falling within the wetland, initiating the process of land acquisition.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/noida/field-work-initiated-to-make-a-case-of-dhanauri-wetland-as-ramsar-site/story-IQTXg0XWbwFwGLylCGM8uI.html (7 Sep 2020)

5 years after Anand Arya initiated legal battle seeking protection for Dhanauri & a year after district forest dept first sent its proposal to declare the water body as a wetland under Wetland Rules-2017, the govt has initiated the process of declaring it a Ramsar site. https://www.hindustantimes.com/noida/dhanauri-a-step-closer-to-getting-ramsar-wetland-tag-as-forest-dept-writes-to-centre/story-pl02kGiP3VC3DsItHU2cWL.html (25 Dec. 2019)

Ramgarh Lake first notified wetland The Ramgarh Lake in Gorakhpur spread over 737 ha will be the first notified wetland in UP under Wetland Management Rules, 2017. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/up-plans-to-notify-gorakhpur-lake-under-wetland-management-rules/1870076  (18 June 2020)

Authorities asked to demarcate Ekana wetland Taking a note of the concern raised on the fate of Ekana wetland in Gomtinagar Extension, the state govt has directed authorities to demarcate the area as per revenue records and submit a report on what can be done to conserve the wetland.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/authorities-asked-to-demarcate-area-of-ekana-wetland/articleshow/74412790.cms  (29 Feb. 2020)

A view of Asan Conservation Reserve, a wetland in Dehradun district.(HT file photo)

Uttarakhand Asan Conservation Reserve becomes first Ramsar site Manju Pandey, joint secretary in MoEF confirmed that Asan Conservation Reserve has become Uttarakhand’s first Ramsar site. Deep Chandra Arya, DFO of Chakrata forest division said, “The certificate was given on July 21, 2020 by the Secretary General, Convention on Wetlands but it was officially announced by the MoEF on Oct. 15, 2020 as certain queries were being fulfilled.” Spread across 444 ha in Dehradun dist on the banks of Yamuna river, Asan receives about 40 migratory species. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/asan-conservation-reserve-becomes-uttarakhand-s-first-ramsar-site/story-cDnNE6eCzPYTLvbGr3zk7N.html (15 Oct 2020)

Govt to start geo-tagging of wetlands Govt will soon start geo-tagging of wetlands in Uttarakhand for better conservation and documentation, informed officials. The revenue and forest depts will work together to conduct ground inspections and check the status of wetlands under the guidance of Uttarakhand Space Application Centre (USAC).

USAC director MPS Bisht said the initiative is part of a nationwide project of Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, that is trying to gather information about wetlands across the country. “We are being provided satellite data by Space Application Centre. This data will be used to geo-tag wetlands of the state. Our scientists will study the data and then conduct field visits to map the wetlands,” said Bisht.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/uttarakhand-to-start-geo-tagging-of-wetlands-for-better-conservation-documentation/story-9QzkHBGxkMj4dPCnQeXmpO.html  (07 Dec. 2020)

Govt decides to legally register wetlands According to the Forest Survey of India, Uttarakhand is home to over 221 wetlands spread over about 54,000 ha. This will be the first time in the state that wetlands will be physically inspected and put on the records on the basis of their ‘type’. Till now, all the inspections used to take place through satellite surveys & analysis. “We already know where all these wetlands exist. The new plan is just to renew things in a more tech-savvy manner” said a senior forest dept official anonymously.

A rapid assessment done by the WWF in Uttarakhand in 2012-13 indicated that there are 116 wetlands within an altitude range of 300 metres to over 5,000 metres. Back then, 42 wetlands were prioritised for conservation. Since the report, the issue of conservation of flora and fauna of wetlands has been raised several times by conservationists at NGT and HC. In fact, NGT, too, had ordered the state govt to take swift action to protect its wetlands. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ukhand-govt-decides-to-legally-register-wetlands/articleshow/79612320.cms  (08 Dec. 2020)

Ladakh Tso Kar now a Ramsar wetland India has added Tso Kar Wetland Complex in Ladakh as its 42nd Ramsar site, second one in the Ladakh. The Tso Kar Basin is a high-altitude wetland complex, consisting of two principal waterbodies, Startsapuk Tso, a freshwater lake of about 438 ha to the south, and Tso Kar itself, a hyper-saline lake of 1800 ha to the north, situated in the Changthang region of Ladakh. It is called Tso Kar, meaning white lake, because of the white salt efflorescence found on the margins due to the evaporation of highly saline water. The Tso Kar Basin is an A1 Category Important Bird Area (IBA) as per Bird Life International and a key staging site in the CAF. The site is also one of the most important breeding areas of the Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in India. https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1683303  (24 Dec. 2020)

Rajasthan Govt readies Sambhar lake plan Interesting to see there is involvement of HC, NGT, several districts, several depts, the plan is ready after a standing committee for the lake has approved it. Will it make a difference to the lake?  https://www.pressreader.com/india/hindustan-times-jalandhar/20200808/282170768497244  (8 Aug. 2020)

Delhi DDA starts work to revive 30 water bodies in its parks The Delhi Development Authority has started the work to rejuvenate 30 out of 50 water bodies in its parks. DDA has prepared a site-specific plan for these water bodies and work on 10 water bodies has begun. There are 122 water bodies under DDA’s jurisdiction of which 50 are under its horticulture dept which is responsible for the maintenance of its dist & regional parks & other green spaces.

Rajeev Kumar Tiwari, principal commissioner (horticulture), DDA, said, “We have already prepared a detailed plan for the rejuvenation of 30 out of 50 water bodies under our horticulture dept. We are trying to revive the water bodies by channelising stormwater from drains as per site conditions and also by using treated water.” Work is going on at Mehrauli Archaeological Park where the agency is reviving three water bodies spread over 6-7 acres using phytoremediation — a bioremediation process. https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/dda-starts-work-to-revive-30-water-bodies-in-its-parks/story-9fnuFh5VkEdbOYscFtDV3L.html  (18 Dec. 2020) 

J&K Anti-encroachment drive at Khushal Sar lake The Srinagar administration has begun a large-scale anti-encroachment drive in and around the Khushal Sar Lake in the older parts of the city. The drive began Feb. 1 with the removal of 25 structures and compounds and the subsequent retrieval of more than 30 kanals (approximately 3.75 acres) of lake area. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/massive-anti-encroachment-drive-to-clear-srinagars-khushal-sar-lake-2174140  (03 Feb. 2020)

Haryana Tourism dept approves Karan Lake’s facelift The Haryana Tourism Dept has given its nod to the project of facelift and renovation of Karan Lake, presently spread on 7 ha, to Karnal Smart City Ltd (KSCL), a special purpose vehicle looking after the Karnal Smart City project. Now, the KSCL will prepare a detailed project report and will call the tenders. Presently, Karan Lake is dependent on Western Yamuna Canal and gets water from July to Aug. In a highly questionable move, plan is to install two tube-wells to ensure round the year water in the lake. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/tourism-dept-approves-karan-lakes-facelift-188603  (24 Dec. 2020)

NORTH EAST & EAST INDIA

Bihar Kabar Lake Bihar’s first Ramsar site Kabar Lake, located 22km northwest of Begusarai town, has been declared Bihar’s first Ramsar site after being proposed since 1987. The declaration was made by the MoEF on Nov 12, also National Birdwatching Day.

Spread over 2,620 ha, the lake hosts 106 species of resident birds and is a nesting ground for 59 species of migratory birds. The site hosts five critically endangered species, including three vultures and two water birds. In addition, it has 46 species of fishes and supports a large number of flora and fauna. The Kabar Lake was notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. In 1989, the Bihar govt declared it a bird sanctuary.

Ashok Ghosh, chairman of State Pollution Control Board, in a survey report titled ‘Kabar Lake- A Paradise Lost’, had said the water of the lake was declining at an alarming rate due to severe eutrophication. “The depth of the lake is declining due to infestation of aquatic weeds. Besides, there is no inflow-outflow mechanism in the lake. Many people are dependent on the lake for livelihood, especially the Sahni fishing community,” he said in the report.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/kabar-lake-declared-bihars-first-ramsar-site/articleshow/79197393.cms  (13 Nov. 2020)

Will it benefit local fishing community? “The Site is one of 18 wetlands within an extensive floodplain complex; it floods during the monsoon season to a depth of 1.5 m. This absorption of floodwaters is a vital service in Bihar where 70% of the land is vulnerable to floods. During dry season, areas of marshland dry out and are used for agriculture,” notes the Convention.

Fishermen in Kabar Taal. Photo by Samir Verma/ Mongabay India

“The water level in the lake has reduced because of heavy siltation and eutrophication (when excess algae and plant growth and their decomposition deprive water of available oxygen, causing death of other organisms) has set in. The fishermen are having plenty of water this year because the inlets and outlets of the lake connecting it to Burhi Gandak river are choked due to silt. This time though it has proved to be a blessing in disguise because of good monsoon. But it has been cleared to allow the flow of water into the lake,” he said.

Some members of the fishing community however are not aware about the Ramsar Convention, “We are too illiterate to understand about these things. We would only consider it as good news if our livelihood improves else nothing matters. We have been watching political leaders making high promises during their poll campaigns of improving our condition but it has proved to be lip-service. The situation, in fact, has turned from bad to worse so far,” fumed Lalu Sahni, 70, a fishermen for the past five decades.

The encroachments coupled with the poaching of migratory birds have been the major issues the wetland has been grappling with over the years. Senior govt officials privy to the matter, however, blame a conflict with Sahnis and local landlords for land encroachments and also targeting of migratory birds. “A major chunk of the notified land under Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 belongs to the local landlords who were not kept in the loop during the notification process. As a result, they lost their land and turned rebels. The local farmers and landlords still consider the land as their own and have been capturing it. They also target migratory birds,” said a senior govt official anonymously. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/12/new-ramsar-site-designated-in-bihar-could-benefit-local-fishing-community/  (11 Dec. 2020)

Largest oxbow lake in Asia is dying Kabar lake was formed thousands of years ago by the meandering of the Gandak river. Over the past 20 years it has shrunk rapidly – but not because of climate change. In 1984, Kabar lake covered almost 6,786 ha, a study led by Ashok Ghosh, a scientist found. By 2004 it had shrunk to 6,044 ha and 2,032 ha in 2012.

Ghosh’s research found that the wetland is diminishing due to mismanagement, encroachment and deliberate attempts to dry the lake. As the water retreated, the land left behind has been occupied by agriculture, housing settlements and a brick factory. https://scroll.in/article/976816/the-slow-disappearance-of-a-lake-in-bihar-has-pitted-two-castes-against-each-other   (27 Oct. 2020)

‘Community participation key to wetland conservation’ Officials & experts emphasised on joint efforts of community and govt to conserve & protect wetlands during a webinar on ‘Vulnerabilities of wetlands & its impact on climate change’, organised by the Centre for Env, Energy & Climate Change. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/community-govt-participation-key-to-conservation-of-wetland/articleshow/79571173.cms (5 Dec 2020)

WEST INDIA

Goa Biodiversity board to use GIS to map wetlands This is the first time such mapping of the state’s water bodies is being undertaken. Except for rivers, the exact location of all other water bodies will be mapped during the exercise, including lakes, ponds, wells, nullahs, streams, springs & reservoirs. With GIS mapping, WRD aims to enable online monitoring of any activity in & around a water body, thus making faster action possible in case of a violation.

Meanwhile, the SWA is in the final stages of notifying the century-old Bondvoll lake in Santa Cruz as Goa’s first official wetland. Sarmokadam said that work has already begun to get 35 other areas notified as wetlands.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/biodiversity-board-to-use-gis-data-to-map-wetlands/articleshow/74543121.cms  (9 March 2020)

10 water bodies closer to wetland status The SWA, at its 17th meeting held on Sept. 18, approved the “brief document” on these ten water bodies, which will now be sent to the state govt for their draft notification as per the wetland rules of the Union environment ministry.

The water bodies that have been identified include, in North Goa, the Carambolim lake, Tollear lake in Chimbel and Batim lake in Tiswadi taluka, the Dhasi lake in Revora and Saulem tollem in Pilerne in Bardez taluka. In South Goa it is the Sarzora lake and Durga lake in Chinchinim, Xeldem lake and Nanda lake in Quepem and Cottambi lake.

After the state govt receives the document, a draft notification will be issued and kept open to the public for 60 days. In the case of Bondvol lake, this process was already carried out, but it was later found that some survey numbers were not incorporated in the draft notification. After adding these survey numbers, the draft notification has recently been kept open again to the public. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/ten-water-bodies-closer-to-wetland-status/articleshow/78305651.cms  (25 Sept. 2020)

Sarzora, Saulem among 5 lakes to get wetland tag After Bondvoll lake, five more waterbodies have inched closer to being declared as wetlands. The SWA in a draft notification, proposed to declare as wetland the Sarzora lake in Salcete, the Toyyar or Chimbel lake, the Dashi lake in Revora, the Saulem lake in Pilerne and the Xeldem lake in Quepem. The authority called for any objections or suggestions within a period of 60 days to the draft notification of these five waterbodies being declared wetlands.

The five waterbodies are ‘considered to be critically significant for its ecosystem services and biodiversity values for the local communities and society at large’. Of the five, Sarzora lake includes the largest area of over 1.69 lakh sq m, followed by Saulem lake with an area of more than One lakh sq m. While the Toyyar lake comprises of an area of 51,000 sq m, the Dashi lake includes an area of over 28,000 sq m. The Xeldem lake is made up of 18,400 sq m. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/sarzora-saulem-among-5-lakes-to-get-wetland-tag/articleshow/79358504.cms  (23 Nov. 2020)

Banastarim, Parra lakes closer to wetlands category SWA is preparing a brief document for nine other waterbodies in Goa. These nine waterbodies include Parra lake, Banastarim lake, Vodle tollem and Dhakte tollem in Benaulim, Sapu tollem in Velim, Maimollem lake in Mormugao, Curca lake, Canturlim in Malebhat and Gawali-Moula waterbodies in Curca.

Of the 35 water bodies the authority is working on to declare as wetlands, 20 are at the initial stage where they have been just identified as potential wetlands. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/banastarim-parra-lakes-inch-closer-to-wetlands-category/articleshow/79887665.cms  (23 Dec. 2020)

SOUTH INDIA

Andhra Pradesh ‘Perali Poguru’ among 5 wetlands identified for restoration ‘Perali Poguru,’ a wetland near Bapatla, finds a place among the five wetlands in the State of the 100 identified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for restoration and preservation. The tiny wetland, just about 4 km from Suryalanka beach, is frequented by migratory birds and has emerged as a new tourist destination.

The other 4 wetlands — Coringa (near Kakinada), Pulicat (Nellore), Kolleru (West Godavari) and Nelapattu (Nellore) —are among the five identified by the state Forest Dept for preservation. The decision to preserve the endangered wetlands, taken at the Conference of Parties to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD CoP 14), is part of the Union Govt’s ‘har ghar mein jal’ (water in every house) program.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/perali-poguru-among-5-wetlands-in-state-identified-for-restoration/article30803705.ece  (12 Feb. 2020)

Karnataka BBMP objects to Namma Metro’s plans for Benniganahalli Lake Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has objected to the Bangalore Metro Rail Corp Ltd’s (BMRCL) proposal to lay electric cables at the Benniganahalli Lake bund and shrink the area by constructing diaphragm walls for the construction of a road.

The BMRCL had already started the excavation work without approval from the BBMP. But BBMP confirmed that the work has stopped now. Residents said that the BMRCL also plans to chop off about 60 trees around the lake towards the Old Madras Road to make space for road-widening. https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/others/bbmp-objects-to-namma-metros-plans-for-benniganahalli-lake/articleshow/73050671.cms (1 Jan 2020)

Water quality good in 40% Bengaluru lakes In its interim report released recently NEERI has certified that water quality in 18 (40%) of the 45 lakes in Bengaluru it examined is “good”, implying it can be used for domestic and irrigation purposes. However, it’s not fit for drinking. BBMP had commissioned NEERI to assess WQI of all its 206 lakes on directions of the High Court, which is hearing a batch of petitions on the condition of various Bengaluru water bodies. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/water-quality-is-good-in-18-of-45-bengaluru-lakes-study/articleshow/73145715.cms  (8 Jan. 2020)

LEGAL INTERVENTIONS: NATIONAL

Directions were given to the National Wetlands Committee to compile data of status of compliance of environmental norms in respect of all significant wetlands in the country to ensure remedial action. The State PCBs/PCCs and State/UT Wetland Authorities in India may give the status of management of wetlands in their respective States to the Secretary, MoEF&CC within three months. On that basis a joint Committee of the Secretary & Chairman CPCB may give a consolidated report to this Tribunal before Jan 21, 2021. (NGT order of Aug 27, 2020: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/468435/order-of-the-national-green-tribunal-regarding-dumping-of-waste-in-the-wetlands-of-jammu-kashmir-27082020/)

States/UTs directed to designate nodal agency for restoration of water bodies  NGT Order to save water bodies: Under Public Trust Doctrine, State has to act as trustee of water bodies; States/UTs directed to designate nodal agency for restoration of water bodies. Petition no 325 of 2015, decided on 18-11-2020. Extract of NGT order:

1. All States/UTs may designate a nodal agency for the restoration of water bodies, wherever no such agency has so far been designated.

2. Under the oversight of the Chief Secretaries of the States/UTs, the designated nodal agency may:

a. Hold its meeting not later than 31-01-2021 to take stock of the situation and plan further steps, including directions to Dist authorities for further course of action up to Panchayat levels and to evolve further monitoring mechanism as well as Grievance Redressal Mechanism.

b. Submit periodical reports to the CPCB/Secretary Jal Shakti Govt of India. First such report may be furnished by 28-02-2021.

Central Monitoring Committee for monitoring remediation of 351 polluted river stretches, headed by the Secretary, MoJS may monitor the steps for restoration of water bodies by all the States periodically.  https://www.scconline.com/blog/?p=239541 (23 Nov. 2020)

NGT’s call on restoration of water bodies Following a plea filed in 2015 to save water bodies in Gurugram dist, the green tribunal in 2019 passed an order asking states to identify, protect and restore the water bodies. The states were asked to file status reports to the CPCB.

But the states failed to do so. In Feb 2020, they were asked, again, by the NGT to submit the status report by March 31, 2020. The court verdict said if the states fail to file the reports, the chief secretaries of the states / Union Territories would have to pay Rs 1 lakh per month till the information was filed.

The CPCB report, published in May 2020, stated that only nine states — Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha and Tripura — and two Union Territories Puducherry and Lakshadweep provided information. Looking at the response, the NGT announced a new date of submission by end-July. CPCB is to review these and file its report by Oct. 31, 2020. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/water/why-ngt-s-calls-on-restoration-of-water-bodies-is-need-of-the-hour-71576  (05 June 2020)

NGT asks Nat Wetland Com to compile compliance status The NGT said the SPCBs and SWAs in India may give the status of management of wetlands in their areas to the Secretary of the MoEF within three months. “On that basis a joint Committee of the Secretary and Chairman CPCB may give a consolidated report to this Tribunal before the next date,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Girl said.

The NGT said that Wetland Rules, 2017 contain elaborate provisions for protection of Wetlands and National and State Wetland Authorities have been set up. However, the fact remain that the wetlands are facing serious challenge of conservation as shown by the present case and other cases which the Tribunal is dealing with from time to time,” the bench said.

It said that the Secretary of MoEF heads the National Wetlands Committee with 18 other Members for integrated management of wetlands, monitoring implementation of the Rules and other allied functions. In spite of high level authorities in place, there are widespread grievances of failure to manage some of the important wetlands, as in the present case and another matter related to Sambhar Lake in Jaipur, the NGT said.

The tribunal’s direction came while hearing a plea filed by J&K resident Raja Muzaffar Bhat seeking directions for prevention of unscientific dumping of waste and encroachment of Hokersar Wetland, Wular Lake & Kreentchoo-Chandhara Wetland in the UT of Jammu & Kashmir. The applicant also annexed photographs showing unscientific dumping of garbage. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/ngt-directs-nat-wetland-committee-to-compile-data-about-compliance-status-of-envn-norms/1924699  (28 Aug. 2020)

NORTH INDIA

Uttar Pradesh ‘Make plan to identify encroached waterbodies’ Following a plea alleging diversion of waterbodies in Ghaziabad for industrial purposes, the NGT has directed the Chief Secretary to prepare a uniform action plan for identification and conservation of such waterbodies. The tribunal took note of a report furnished by the Ghaziabad District Magistrate that around 72% of the water bodies had been encroached upon.

The Bench observed: “We find that action taken by State Pollution Control Board is neither adequate nor in the right direction. It appears that the officers concerned are not conversant with the law of the land, which is resulting in serious damage to the environment. Waterbodies are the lifeline of the environment for groundwater recharge, storage of water for different purposes, for microclimate, aesthetics and so on.”

Stating that there was an “alarming level of encroachment” in Ghaziabad, the Bench said, “This needs attention of the authorities at the State-level and special plan and drive is necessary for identification and conservation of such water bodies for enforcement of rule of law and protection of environment.” https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/make-plan-to-identify-encroached-waterbodies-in-up/article33016541.ece  (03 Nov. 2020)

SUKHNA LAKE

Why Rs 73 cr not sought for Sukhna: HC  After 11 years & 120 hearings by 30 different benches, the HC had reserved its judgment on the conservation of the Sukhna Lake.

Passing the interim order on Jan. 16, the HC not only rapped the UT administration for its “lethargic attitude” that has delayed the sanctioning of Rs 73.51 crore but also gave it two weeks to reopen talks with the MoEF for this de-siltation and catchment area treatment project. The bench told the ministry to look into matter and consider sanctioning the money.

The bench also opined that the Chandigarh authorities must consider the method of dredging and take it to ground, where de-silting of the lake is an urgent requirement. It told the officials to divide the lake into blocks for dredging.

The court also observed that its various order had failed to prompt the administration to bring about any tangible change to the state of the Sukhna catchment. It stressed that if the Sukhna was to be conserved and preserved, the problem of desilting must be solved. The UT wants a 2-km eco-sensitive zone in the Sukhna’s catchments, while the Punjab govt is trying to keep it to 100 m. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/sukhnas-11-yr-money-drought-hc-asks-why/articleshow/73309998.cms (17 Jan 2020)

HC Judgement on March 2, 2020 The March 2, 2020 directions of Punjab & Haryana HC for the sustained conservation of Sukhna wetland are welcome, though the directions are likely to be appealed against in the Supreme Court, considering the far reaching implications of the directions. One hopes the SC takes a view that helps sustain the Sukhna lake and the wetlands in a confidence inspiring way. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/punjab-haryana-hc-issues-slew-of-directions-for-protection-of-sukhna-lake-in-chandigarh-read-judgment-153386  (2 March 2020)

Any gov authority which ignores the environmental damage caused by unplanned development will have to face the music. The court also declared all commercial, residential and or other structures constructed in the catchment area falling in Punjab, Haryana & Chandigarh as delineated in the map prepared by the Survey of India on 21.9.2004 were declared illegal & unauthorised and ordered to be demolished in 3 months. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hc-declares-chandigarhs-sukhna-lake-living-entity-fines-punjab-haryana-100-cr-each-for-damaging-catchment-area/article30969711.ece (3 Mar 2020)

The Sukhna lake is now being declared a wetland in accordance with Wetland Rules, 2017. However, people living in villages near the lake are uneasy about its newly acquired status. They point out that the administration is not heeding any of their concerns over sewage inflow, construction activities & the size of the wetland. https://www.civilsocietyonline.com/environment/sukhna-lake-is-now-a-wetland/ (3 Mar 2020)

Sukhna Lake. The Tribune.

UT differs with Punjab, Haryana The judgment has not left Chandigarh high and dry. With a little constructed area in the Sukhna Lake’s catchment and Rs 200 crore ordered to fill its kitty, it has very little to lose and gain more. Not finding itself in troubled waters, it is not filing an appeal against the order. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/ut-differs-with-punjab-haryana-on-sukhna-order-52557  (08 March 2020)

Encroachment was on while case was under hearing The Court said that there was no deterrence to illegal construction in the Sukhna Lake’s catchment area. The State did not provide adequate police backup for carrying out drives to demolish illegal constructions. “State instrumentality” supplied power and water connection to persons raising unauthorised constructions. The judgment also underscores how a Single Bench went against the recognised norms to stay demolition. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/construction-continued-despite-court-orders-52561 (8 May 2020)

Media coverage on landmark HC judgement The court has fined Punjab and Haryana Rs 100 crore each for causing damage to the catchment area of Sukhna Lake. The Rs 100 crore fine would be deposited with the ministry of environment, forest within three months. The ministry would utilize the funds for restoration of the lake.

The high court bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and HS Sidhu also ordered the demolition of all the structures in the catchment area and ordered that the owners whose building plans were approved by the authorities would be relocated and compensated with Rs 25 lakh each.

The order came in a 2009 suo motu petition initiated over the depleting water level in the lake. The lake was created by Le Corbusier in 1958. By 1988, 66% of the original water holding capacity of the lake was lost due to silting. Following this, check dams were constructed in the catchment area. But the water level has once again started going down. The lake now has a capacity of around 5 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) against the original capacity of 1,074 MCM.

The court also declared Sukhna as a living entity. The chief secretaries of both the states and adviser, Chandigarh, have been asked to constitute high-power committees to fix responsibilities of the officers who permitted large scale unauthorized construction, within a period of four weeks.

The Chandigarh administration has been directed to declare Sukhna Lake as Wetland in 3 months. Punjab and Haryana too have been directed to declare areas falling under their jurisdiction as wetland in 3 months. The MoEF has been directed to notify at least 1 km area from the boundary of Sukhna Lake Wildlife Sanctuary as eco-sensitive zone. It declared the master plans of Punjab & Haryana, which allowed construction in the catchment area, as illegal. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/punjab-haryana-fined-rs-100-crore-each-by-hc-over-damages-to-sukhna-lake/story-rMTh6okccRV210tG5SjQsO.html; https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/hc-sukhna-legal-entity-raze-buildings-in-catchment-area-50017 (3 March 2020)

THE TRIBUNE editorial on HC order on Sukhna: “For, not only is it an immediate vindication of right over might, but also a potent long-term deterrent. Riding roughshod over laws in place to protect the Sukhna catchment area and wildlife sanctuary, the Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh authorities have over the years been arbitrarily bestowing clearances and permissions for construction activities in their respective areas. The officials guilty of this must be held accountable… Now, with the HC designating the Sukhna Lake a juristic entity and making the citizens the ‘loco parentis’ to protect its right to live on, the residents are duty-bound to ensure that the administrators pull all stops to implement the directions. It essentially entails wetland preservation as well as maintenance of proper water quality and quantity in the lake.”  https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/saving-the-sukhna-50444  (04 March 2020)

A day after the order, while the Chandigarh administration said it would seek clarity from HC on details available in the Survey of India map demarcating the catchment area, as “it doesn’t have adequate resolution”, the Punjab govt, too, said that it would examine the order and take “whatever decisions, legislative or judicial, needed to resolve the issue”. However, the Haryana govt announced that it would approach the SC against the order.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/chandigarh-punjab-and-haryana-scramble-for-solutions-after-hc-order-on-sukhna-catchment-area/story-ecUUErG0kIQ6bCOAlZrYiI.html (4 March 2020) Punjab CM asks Advocate General to examine the judgement and says the govt stands by the people. AAP MLA says the case has not been defended properly and was related to autonomy of the state.  https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/examine-order-on-sukhna-lake-capt-directs-ag-50376 (4 March 2020)  

WEST INDIA

Goa NGT asks govt to identify all wetlands before Jan 2021 NGT directed Goa govt to complete the process of identification of wetlands by Jan 2021. It has asked for a progress report on a quarterly basis. The state govt had requested NGT for a one-year extension to identify the wetlands in the state.

In an affidavit, the state govt told NGT that work towards implementing the Wetland Rules, 2017, has already commenced and that various committees have been constituted under the GSWA. Further, the govt said the process of compiling information pertaining to pre-existing rights involves interaction with the local people which includes owners, tenants and other stakeholders. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/state-must-identify-wetlands-by-jan-21/articleshow/73621271.cms (26 Jan 2020)

NGT accepts plan to hasten process  NGT accepted the timeline submitted by SWA that work will be expedited on the 35 wetlands already identified and will be completed within six months. The identification of the remaining wetlands will continue simultaneously where the entire work will be concluded within one year. Kashinath Shetye, the applicant, stated that in July 2018 the govt took a decision in SWA to engage the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSM) which had already executed certain works.

However, the SWA member secretary stated the work executed by NCSM is for identification and demarcation of coastal zones and did not cover wetlands which may be beyond the said zone. “Since NCSM had delayed in responding to SWA’s proposal and that a lower rate was quoted by National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), the work was assigned to NIO,” the tribunal noted. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/wetlands-ngt-accepts-plan-to-hasten-process/articleshow/73684044.cms (28 Jan 2020)

Gujarat Set up lake conservation body by Jan 2021:NGT The NGT directed Gujarat along with other states to designate a nodal agency for the conservation of lakes. The NGT wrote to the Gujarat chief secretary to designate a nodal agency which should hold its meeting not later than Jan 31. The NGT’s principal bench wrote to the state that as a custodian, under the Public Trust Doctrine, the State has to act as trustee of the water bodies to protect them for public use.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/set-up-lake-conservation-body-by-jan-2021-ngt/articleshow/79377457.cms  (24 Nov. 2020)

Rajasthan NGT raps govt for inadequate measures in Sambhar lake The NGT rapped the state govt for inadequate remedial measures in Sambhar lake where thousands of birds died last year and has ordered the chief secretary to furnish a report of monitoring the water body before the next date of hearing on Jan 22, 2021.

Thousands of birds died in Rajasthan’s Sambhar lake last November due to animal botulism, a neuromuscular illness.(PTI File Photo)

“Since Sambhar Lake is said to be a Ramsar site of international significance, and remedial action taken is not adequate even after sufficiently long time, we direct the chief secretary to monitor further remedial steps, at least once every month, and furnish a report of such monitoring to this tribunal before the next date of hearing,” said the NGT order by chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel and judicial member SP Wangdi.

The govt received a copy of the order on Sept. 7 2020 after it had been passed orders on Aug 27. During a hearing on March 17, the NGT ordered the state govt, among other things, to prepare a comprehensive management plan.

The SWA told the NGT on June 23 that a comprehensive environment management plan had been prepared by the environment department but was yet to be approved by the authority. “Due to Covid emergency, the meeting of wetland authority could not be held which will be held shortly and the plan will be submitted thereafter. Delineation of core and buffer area has been included in the comprehensive management plan and compliance will be submitted along with the management plan,” the SWA report said. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ngt-raps-rajasthan-on-the-knuckles-for-inadequate-measures-in-sambhar-lake/story-KFrY5gaPcFZKtGvdwPzVeK.html (9 Sep 2020)

SOUTH INDIA

Telangana NGT moves to protect Ameenpur Lake The NGT took stock of increasing encroachment of the Ameenpur lake & issued orders to chief secretary, Somesh Kumar, to see if the full tank level (FTL) has been fixed. It asked him to ascertain whether the water bodies especially those around the Ameenpur village have the FTL fixed & encroachments identified.

The tribunal asked the Chief Secretary to file a report in four months. The report has to include data on the FTL of the lake, buffer zone fixed from the FTL to be declared as a non-development zone, whether all water bodies have been inventorised and notified under the Wetlands Rules of 2017, if there any encroachments and what steps have been taken by the authorities to remove them. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/100120/national-green-tribunal-moves-to-protect-ameenpur-lake.html (10 Jan 2020)

“Quit post if you can’t protect Hyderabad’s lakes”: HC Expressing displeasure over inaction of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corp officials in preventing pollution of lakes in the city, a division bench of the HC on Jan. 20 asked the officials concerned, including the GHMC commissioner, to resign from their posts if they cannot discharge their duties properly. The court said that the people living in the surrounding areas have been suffering with health problems due to foul smell emanating from the pond. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/2020/jan/21/quit-your-posts-if-you-cant-protect-hyderabads-lakes-telangana-hc-to-ghmc-officials-2092318.html  (21 Jan. 2020)

NGT pulls up govt over pollution in Hussainsagar The NGT on Jan. 22 pulled up the state govt for failing to take steps to control the pollution in Hyderabad’s Hussainsagar. Hearing a petition by Lubna Sarwath, an activist from Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL), NGT’s Southern Bench in Chennai accused the state govt of suppressing facts in its reports, while pointing out that there was no heavy metal analysis among the documents submitted to the tribunal.

Pointing out that it had been five years since the petition was filed, the NGT asked the Telangana govt if it had taken any concrete steps to restore the lake. The petitioner had alleged that industries in the city were discharging untreated effluents into the lake which had heavily polluted the water body.

The court is now planning to constitute a committee, which would include members from the Central & State PCB, IIT Hyderabad, MoEF & the National Institute of Hydrology. The committee would be asked to study the quality of the lake water & submit a detailed report.

The lake was originally built in 1563 under the rule of Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah and fed by the Musi river. It was built over 1,600 ha. Today, however, it stands at a pitiful 440 ha. A thick stench of industrial effluents hangs in the air as one crosses it. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/ngt-pulls-telangana-govt-over-pollution-hyderabads-hussainsagar-form-panel-116641  (23 Jan. 2020) 

HC asks govt to stop illegal construction at water body HC on May 25 directed the State govt to stop any illegal construction near a water body at Puppulguda village in Rajendranagar mandal of Ranga Reddy dist. It directed the State immediately to remove any encroachment on the water body. The bench directed the State, SPCB, Musi River Development Corp, State WALTA Authority & Lake Protection Committee to file their counter affidavits in the PIL filed seeking protection of above water body. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2020/may/26/stop-illegal-construction-at-water-body-telangana-high-court-to-government-2148070.html (26 Apr 2020)

Explain why houses in lake beds regularised: HC Reminding authorities about unwanted consequences witnessed in Eluru, where water from abandoned lakes filled with dangerous chemicals like lead was crippling the lives of people, the HC on Dec. 10 2020 sought to know from the state govt as to why its authorities were regularising encroached lake beds and tank bed plots in Telangana. The HC was hearing a PIL filed by Cheruku Bharati of Bharati Bharosa Foundation charging the authorities with inaction in the face of encroachment of lake bed at Bhimaram in Mancherial district. “We seem to have made a mess of lakes. If you do not save lakes, the future would be bleak,” the bench said.

The bench asked the district collector to inquire into the matter and inform the court how the authorities regularised encroachments on this lake under GO 59. The bench also reminded him about the Shamirpet lake in Medchal-Malkajgiri dist that has scores of houses in its buffer zone. “If you regularise tank beds too, then nothing would remain in Telangana,” the bench said, while issuing notices to the state and the district collector.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/explain-why-houses-in-lake-beds-are-regularised-hc-asks-telangana-govt/articleshow/79676353.cms  (11 Dec. 2020)

Andhra Pradesh Kakinada: NGT panel begins probe into mangroves destruction NGT-Chennai team made investigation regarding the destruction of the mangroves at house sites in Kakinada on Dec. 9. Chennai Scientist Dr Pandey made a study. He obtained details from the Joint Collector G Lakshmisha & other officials. The NGT team looking at the levelled grounds wanted to know where exactly the mangroves existed prior to the levelling of the ground. By destroying the mangroves they have caused immense harm to the environment. https://www.thehansindia.com/andhra-pradesh/kakinada-ngt-panel-begins-probe-into-alleged-mangroves-destruction-661225  (10 Dec. 2020)

Karnataka Fresh deadline issued for desilting Bellandur, Varthur The NGT committee after its visit to Bellandur & Varthur lakes in Bangalore on Jan. 21, to assess the progress in rejuvenating the lake issued a fresh deadline to Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) to finish the desilting work within four months, which is by May, before the arrival of monsoon. The previous deadline for desilting was Sept 2020.

BDA has decided to give the nutrient-rich soil to farmers, brick kilns & for construction. The report states that the silt from Bellandur lake could give 4.5 lakh truckloads for construction, while Varthur lake can give 2.6 lakh truckloads of silt, which can be used for construction. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/fresh-deadline-issued-desilting-bellandur-and-varthur-lakes-bengaluru-116646  (23 Jan. 2020)

Vengaiah Lake Meanwhile, BBMP’s horticulture dept has earmarked Rs 5 crore for the development of the park on an eight acre land adjacent to Vengaiah Lake. However, residents of the area are puzzled with the lack of efforts for the lake adjacent to the park. “What is the use of developing a park near the lake that is full of sewage water and hyacinth weeds? A decade ago, Vengaiah Lake was a favourite destination for many residents. Now it is full of sewage water,’’ said Balaji Raghottam, a lake volunteer. https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/civic/rs-5-cr-spent-on-park-but-adjacent-lake-forgotten/articleshow/73564803.cms  (24 Jan. 2020)

Submit offer made to Infosys on lake revival: HC The Karnataka HC on Dec. 1 2020 directed the State govt to produce the offer made to the Infosys Foundation to rejuvenate and maintain Hebbal lake in Mysuru while observing that perhaps the govt would have got better offers if it had issued public notice inviting corporate entities to come forward to assist in taking care of State’s lakes. Even if the law permits allowing corporate entities to maintain lakes, the process of allowing their participation must be fair and transparent, the court said, while directing the govt to produce the process followed before entering into MoU.

The court in March 2020 had restrained the govt from signing more MoUs while observing that prima facie, by way of the MoUs, the govt wants to shift its obligation to corporate entities. The govt had told the HC that it had signed an MoU with Infosys Foundation for Hebbal lake in Mysuru in 2016; and five more MoUs were signed between 2017 and 2020 with Bharat Electronics Ltd., Biocon Foundation, Titan Company Ltd., Say Trees Environmental Trust and CMR University for rejuvenating and maintaining Doddabommasandra, Hebbagodi, Veerasandra, Nallurahalli and Chagalatti lakes respectively.

Observing that it is the duty of the State govt to stop those works not permitted as per the 2012 order of the HC based in Justice Patil Committee Report, the Bench directed the govt to submit the details of extent of works carried out & whether the corporate entities have complied with the terms of the MoU. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/submit-offer-made-to-infosys-on-lake-revival-hc-tells-govt/article33226084.ece (2 Dec 2020)

Tamil Nadu Kamarajar port polluted Ennore region The govt-owned Kamarajar Port Ltd & North Chennai Thermal Power station (NCTPS) has come under sharp criticism from the southern bench of the NGT for multiple violations of environment norms in Ennore. The bench has further invoked the ‘polluter pays’ principle & ordered the Port to pay Rs 8.34 lakh to the CPCB for ‘environmental compensation’, on Jan. 20 2020.

Additionally, as part of CSR, the Port authorities were ordered to undertake mass planting of mangroves and other plants specific to that region (33% of their total area). All other port activities in the Ennore region, too, will now be monitored and a detailed environmental management plan has to be carried out for handling dredged material and get the approval of TNPCB before disposal

The complete survey of the area was carried out by a committee comprising officials from the CPCB, PCB and IIT-Madras. They were given four tasks by the NGT — to find whether any damages have been caused to the soil on account of the violations, whether remediation methods adopted by the port are sufficient, what is the further remediation to be undertaken by them and to assess the environmental compensation for the violation and damages to the environment. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/tns-kamarajar-port-polluted-ennore-region-pay-fine-and-plant-trees-116561 (21 Jan 2020)

Kerala SC orders razing of seven-star resort A day before start of demolition of around 350 flats in Maradu area of Kochi on its order, the SC paved the way for razing of the 7-star Kapico Kerala Resorts in Vembanad Lake in neighbouring Alappuzha for violating coastal zone regulations. The court upheld an order of the Kerala high court which had in 2013 passed the demolition order for the resort. The HC had red-flagged development of resorts in two backwater islands – Vettila Thuruthu and Nediyathuruthu, located in Vembanad Lake. While one resort was built by Kapico Group in Nediyathuruthu, the second, the Green Lagoon Resort, came up on the other island.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/now-sc-orders-seven-star-resort-razed-in-kerala/articleshow/73197595.cms  (11 Jan. 2020)

Maradu Flats Demolished Massive arrangements were made for the two-day demolition process. The first building was razed to the ground in seconds, followed by the demolition of the second apartment complex. https://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/maradu-flats-4-posh-kochi-apartment-complexes-to-go-down-as-mega-demolition-begins-today-kerala-2162278  (12 Jan. 2020) 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: NORTH INDIA

J&K Bid to stop urban flooding claims wetland casualty A flood management plan, drawn up to protect the capital of Kashmir after record rainfall in 2014 caused widespread damage and about 150 deaths, is drying out an internationally protected wetland near Srinagar. The two-stage plan, started in 2018, includes dredging and deepening an existing drainage channel that diverts water from the River Jhelum around the city, through the Hokera wetland and back into the river in Baramullah dist to prevent flooding. The flood spill channel in Hokera has now been excavated down to an average of 15 feet (4.6 m) in the first phase of the plan, and is expected to help ward off minor flood threats.

But the work has also dried out about half of the 1,375-ha wetland, as more water runs off into the channel, putting wildlife and nature at risk, according to wetland wildlife warden Ifshan Dewan. Because the wetland is an internationally recognised Ramsar conservation site, the govt plan to expand a flood channel passing through it should have raised a red flag. At the wetland, which lies 12 km west of Srinagar city centre, people now walk across land where previously boats were needed. Animals graze and boys play cricket amid mounds of dumped material. https://news.trust.org/item/20201224050214-hlwya/ (24 Dec 2020)

Admin to fell 21 lakh trees to ‘reclaim’ Wular Lake Administration has embarked on a project to cut over 20 lakh trees to “reclaim” the shrinking Wular Lake spread across north Kashmir’s Bandipore and Baramulla dists. With the cutting of 2 lakh trees already underway in the first phase, experts advise caution.

Wular Conservation and Management Authority has started cutting trees on the Ramsar wetland & once Asia’s largest freshwater lake. The project was started on the basis of a 2007 report by Wetlands International South-Asia. Experts, however, call for a study on the ecological impact of cutting trees in such large numbers. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/jk-admin-to-fell-21-lakh-trees-to-reclaim-wular-lake-6213250/  (13 Jan. 2020)

Ramsar sites, a case of silent death The plight of Ramsar Wetlands in Kashmir, a land once famed for its beautiful lakes.  https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/kashmirs-ramsar-sites-a-case-of-silent-death/  (05 June 2020)

‘Vegetable Boatmen’ facing bleak future After the August 5 shutdown, incomes have fallen drastically and a sense of disenchantment is creeping in among the community.

Even as the Dal Lake in Srinagar shrinks and chokes with pollution, it continues to sustain a livelihood for the haq haenz of Kashmir. Literally translating to ‘vegetable boatmen’ owing to the aquatic landscape that forms the backdrop of their agricultural practice, this community, living and farming on the interior fringes of the Dal, provides the Valley with some of its best haq and nadru. Amidst allegations of encroachment, the farmers invoke milkiyat, insisting that these marshes have been used by their families long before the very depts making these accusations were formed, & that cultivating them has been their traditional occupation. https://thewire.in/rights/vegetable-boatmen-kashmir-shutdown-market-impact (18 Jan 2020)

DTE Infograph.

Turning lakes into dump yards Municipalities or the local govts are responsible for protecting the environment; but in Kashmir they are involved in its destruction. The crisis is not limited to urban bodies. Rural areas are also struggling due to poor waste management. Local residents & sanitation workers also dump waste in waterbodies. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/waste/a-trashed-valley-kashmir-needs-to-segregate-its-waste-at-source-73447  (20 Sept. 2020)

Wetlands, rivers at receiving end of solid waste The Migratory birds coming from East Europe, Central Asia and China are under threat. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2020/01/17/kashmirs-waste-epidemic-continues-untreated/   (17 Jan. 2020)

Gharana: a dying wetland The article by Niraj Mahar details the author’s experience during a visit to a remote wetland in J & K. The conservation efforts & the unique social challenges associated with the effort are detailed. https://www.geographyandyou.com/the-last-sigh-of-a-marsh-jammus-gharana/   (28 May 2020)

Himachal Pradesh Over 400 migratory birds die in Pong dam  The mysterious death of hundreds of migratory birds has been reported in Pong Dam wetlands in Himachal Pradesh during the past two days. The incident has led to concerns as Pong wetland is an important winter ground for nearly 100,000 birds of over 110 species. Post mortem of the dead birds was conducted at Fatehpur. The preliminary findings of the post mortem ruled out suspicions of poisoning, informed Deputy Chief Conservator (DCF) Wildlife Hamirpur. https://himachalwatcher.com/2020/12/30/migratory-bird-deaths-in-pong-dam-wetland/ (30 Dec 2020)

Chandigarh WWF to make management plan for Sukhna  The World Wide Fund (WWF) Dec 10 agreed to prepare a management plan for the Sukhna lake wetland free of cost. The management plan includes water conservation, tourism activities around and inside the wetland, ways to resolve deficit water in the wetland, preservation of the local flora and fauna, and controlling and regulating the boating. A major threat to Sukhna is the discharge of pollutants from the neighboring states.

Though Sukhna lake was declared a wetland in 1989, the UT Administration again issued a wetland notification in 2019 under the 2017 rules. Spread over 225 Ha, the catchment area of Sukhna Wetland is 4158 Ha, including 1010 Ha of Haryana and 274 Ha of Punjab, as per the Survey of India.  https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/wwf-sukhnalake-wetand-wetland-conservation-chandigarh-7100462/  (11 Dec. 2020)

Punjab Kanjli Wetland revival A detailed plan is being devised by the district administration to revive Kanjli Wetland yet again as a tourist spot. A meeting in this regard was held at the Deputy Commissioner Office on Oct 28, 2020. While the basic infrastructure at the wetland will be upgraded, a ‘detailed project report’ on the wetland has been ordered within a week to promote activities and various spaces to revive tourism. These shall include boating, walk ways & restaurant, among others. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/jalandhar/kanjli-wetland-revival-163502 (31 Oct 2020)

Uttar Pradesh Despite NGT order, water bodies not identified  Even after seven months of NGT order neither the water bodies have been identified nor the action plan has been prepared for their protection. NGT on Feb 25, 2020 had asked all the states to prepare a dist-level plan by July 30, 2020 to identify and manage water bodies and conserve them.

At the same time, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was also asked to collect a fine of one lakh rupees every month from July 30, 2020, for not filing timely reply on behalf of the District Magistrates. But all this has not happened yet. Neither the status report and plans of the reservoirs in the states were prepared nor has the CPCB written any letter to the states regarding the penalty due to the delay.

The slow functioning of the govt has been questioned by the 2-member monitoring committee constituted following the NGT directions on Oct 01, 2020. The committee is headed by Justice SVS Rathore. The committee, in its remarks and recommendation, has said that the CPCB should answer why no order was given by them to pay a fine of Rs one lakh to those authorities and officials. However, given prolonged lockdown during COVID-19,  the NGT has granted CPCB time till 31 Oct to file status reports and replies. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/hindistory/river/river-projects/up-seven-months-have-passed-but-neither-the-ponds-nor-the-action-plan-made-73682  (06 Oct. 2020)

Farmers complaining against overflow in Mamor Jheel a Yamuna Oxbow lake in Kairna affecting their crops on annual basis. Over 70% of waterbodies in Lucknow are encroached by illegal plotting, I fail to understand why can’t tehsildar, lekhpal, SDM, parshad, Vidhayak stop these illegal plotting at first instance. https://twitter.com/Venkatesh_D/status/1223963648151801858   (02 Feb. 2020)

70% of Lucknow water bodies encroached “Over 70% of Lucknow’s water bodies were encroached by illegal plotting. Water bodies like Moti jheel, Shautal jheel & Ekana wetlands are facing the onslaught of urban development. Wetlands & smart cities can co-exist, provided we give importance to water bodies in urban planning,” said Venkatesh Dutta, a research scholar.  https://epaper.hindustantimes.com/Home/ShareArticle?OrgId=5826d3d1&imageview=1&fbclid=IwAR3r51Y1AV9TBKIB0x7Jm7l5eYrgOstXDRU_0kCJM9FTFr4IzldXF7r0T7g (3 Feb 2020)

Second dolphin death in 5 days in Bulandshahr The death of another dolphin, the second in five days in Narora area of Bulandshahr district, has evoked concern among experts about protection of this highly endangered fresh water species in the Upper Gangetic Basin. In the latest instance, a dolphin was found dead in the lower Ganga canal near Ramghat bridge on Oct 13, 2020. Previously, a young dolphin was found dead near Narora village on Oct 9. Earlier in Jan, a dolphin was found dead near Jalapur Jora village Meerut’s Hastinapur area. A senior forest official, who did not wish to be named, said, “Prima facie, illegal fishing in the river seems to be the reason for the death of these two dolphins.”

Dr Sandeep Behera, consultant of NGMC, said, “We must put an effective check on the frequent death of dolphins.” He said the stretch of Ganga between Narora and Garhmukteshwar was declared a Ramsar site (wetland site of international importance) because of these dolphins and the community’s participation in their conservation. But, he alleged, officials could not develop a management plan for the site in past 15 years.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/lucknow/second-dolphin-death-in-5-days-in-up-s-bulandshahr-probe-panel-set-up/story-rQoT9ctoGJikfEaty8UJiJ.html  (14 Oct. 2020)

NAJAFGARH WETLAND

ToI Infograph.

Farmers want GMDA to raise dam to protect land Farmers from 8 villages near the Najafgarh drain submitted a memorandum Badhshahpur MLA Rakesh Daulatabad on Jan. 2, 2020 asking for a dam to be built to prevent the drain overflow from inundating their land. The letter claimed that nearly 2240 ha agricultural land have been water-logged on the Gurugram-Delhi border along the Najafgarh drain. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/farmers-want-gmda-to-raise-dam-to-protect-their-land-from-perennial-water-logging-by-open-najafgarh-drain/story-v3Az35jKSEtPkyCtKF6eGO.html (3 Jan. 2020) While govt remains tight lipped in declaring it as wetlands, such demands are being raised for past some time. In Jan 2019 state forest minister Rao Narbir Singh had proposed to build bund on portion of marshes to reclaim land. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/najafgarh-lake-to-be-dammed-alarm-bells-ring-for-wetland-flooding-prone-city/articleshow/67373464.cms (4 Jan. 2019)

Land or wetlands: state at cross roads A large portion of the Najafgarh wetland could dry up if a check dam is built there as the Haryana govt finds itself at the intersection of local land owners’ demands and concerns about a major environmental loss.

However, every govt record and map, including that of the Delhi Development Authority, state gazetteers, flood-control dept of Delhi, NCR regional plans, MoEFCC  & ISRO wetland documents, mentions that the wetland dates back to 1807. In 1865, the govt dug a 51-km channel from the eastern end of the lake to the Yamuna, which came to be known as the Najafgarh drain.

“After the floods of 1964, the Najafgarh drain was widened to accommodate the flood discharge. Delhi built an embankment on its side of the lake to prevent flooding of its areas,” said Manu Bhatnagar from INTACH. An INTACH study shows the Najafgarh basin is part of the centuries-old Sahibi Nadi, a dying ephemeral river that would flow through Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi before draining into the Yamuna.

Instead of killing the wetland by building embankments and dams, activists have proposed a slew of measures, including treating wastewater before releasing it into the lake, to revive and protect it. Bhatnagar said the wetland should be declared an area of permanent water spread and farmers can be compensated to save the lake for groundwater recharge.

Manu Bhatnagar said, “The govt is absolutely backtracking on its stand. That is why we filed an execution application in April 2019 as the state govt has not done anything yet to notify Najafgarh lake as a wetland. The proposed bund is contrary to notification of the wetland. There is a need to understand that the destruction of the wetland will have a major impact on the groundwater level in Delhi-NCR, apart from destroying the entire ecology.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/land-or-wetland-haryana-at-a-crossroads/articleshow/74155698.cms  (16 Feb. 2020)

Najafgarh Jheel countdown to rejuvenation or extinction Ritu Rao, a PhD scholar at Teri University working on urban water bodies and also working with INTACH on water bodies of Delhi, have created a group on Facebook on Najafgarh jheel which lies in Delhi and Gurugram. It is the largest water body after Yamuna in this region. Sadly like all urban water bodies, this jheel is on the verge of extinction. https://www.facebook.com/groups/231361664822750/?ref=share.

Wetlands in Delhi & Haryana, home to hundreds of species of birds, face serious threats from pollution & encroachment; official recognition could be an important step to conservation. https://www.thethirdpole.net/2020/11/19/crucial-to-bird-migration-indias-wetlands-are-under-threat/  (19 Nov. 2020)

Saga of a forgotten River In this article Ritu Rao narrates the sad story of Najafgarh Jheel or Sahibi River and its journey from a River to a Nala now. https://sandrp.in/2020/09/16/najafgarh-jheel-saga-of-a-forgotten-river/ (16 Sep 2020)

NORTH EAST INDIA

Manipur Critique of Loktak Inland Waterways Project Shripad Dharmadhikary & Ram Wangkheirakpam analyse and critique the proposed Loktak Inland Waterways Improvement Project (LIWIP). They conclude that the project has not done any social or environmental impact assessment, its benefit cost ratio is unscientific and flawed and the project has not taken statutory clearances or held public hearings. Such a project should not go ahead without these. It also violates the High Court orders & Ramsar convention norms. https://sandrp.in/2020/03/01/critique-of-the-loktak-inland-waterways-improvement-project/  (1 March 2020) NPSSFW (I) protests against Loktak Inland Waterways Project. https://dc.icsf.net/en/component/dcnews/articledetail/15588.html  (03 March 2020)

How NHPC’s 105 MW hydropower project destroyed the Loktak lake. Loktak is not just a lake. For Manipuris she is Loktak Lairembi (Goddess Loktak), and for the several thousands of fishermen who depend on her for their livelihood, she is ema (mother). And although she is the fountainhead of Manipuri culture, her own identity has been in a state of flux for decades.

Legend has it that Loktak was formed when gods wooed the valley’s people. The lake has witnessed the very idea of Manipur take shape. It was on its shores that the beloved Meitei folklore of princess Thoibi and Khamba and their timeless romance came to life. Poubi Lai, a mythical creature integral to the Meitei belief system, is believed to reside in the heart of lake. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/manipurs-loktak-lake-chokes-from-a-catastrophic-project-flagged-off-50-years-ago/article30759633.ece (8 Feb 2020)

Observation of World Wetlands Day at Langolsabi locality of Champu Khangpok floating village in February 2019. Photo: Deepak Shijagurumayum/ Vikalp Sangam

Community participation in conseravation of Loktak Members of CSOs re-introduced aquatic and semi-aquatic plants for food, for earning, and for revitalizing the ecosystem of the lake.  http://vikalpsangam.org/article/community-participation-in-conservation-of-loktak-lake-of-manipur/  (22 June 2020)

Assam Baghjan blowout: Critical wetland habitat burns The situation at Maguri Motapung beel only highlights India’s lack of concern for its wetland ecosystems. The fire and oil leak in Tinsukia district, where the Baghjan oil well is located, is happening in the midst of numerous ‘development’ projects that the Indian govt has mooted in an effort to industrialise the northeast. At the same time, wetlands themselves bear much of the brunt of India’s industrial tendencies across the country. Two recent examples include land appropriation for housing development projects, which will damage the mangroves of Kakinada Bay on the Godavari river, and Tamil Nadu mulling denotifying a part of the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in Chengalpattu district to benefit a pharmaceutical company, in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. https://science.thewire.in/uncategorised/baghjan-oil-blowout-maguri-motapung-beel-wetlands/  (11 June 2020)

The wildlife & biodiversity impact of the wells were not studied for nearly a decade since the ministry granted env clearance. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/assam-gas-field-may-have-flouted-green-guidelines/story-uhmEbSU6w7NUSCqdJmpVLJ.html (26 Jun 2020)

WII’s final 178-page assessment shows extensive damage not only on wildlife but also on water and air pollution and impact on local communities. The Institute has also called for a review of EC granted to OIL in April, 2020 and a cumulative assessment of ~50 wells (including those planned) in Assam.  https://www.indiaspend.com/assam-oilfield-fire-wildlife-institute-wants-review-of-eco-clearances-rti-shows/ (16 Sep 2020)

NGT on June 25 imposed a fine of Rs 25 crore on OIL for causing damage to the environment, humans and wildlife, over its failure to stop the fire at its oil well at Baghjan. The tribunal also constituted an 8-member committee headed by former high court judge BP Katakey to look into the matter and submit a report in 30 days. https://nenow.in/north-east-news/assam/assam-ngt-imposes-rs-25-crore-fine-on-oil-for-baghjan-fire.html  (25 June 2020)

“OIL’S INFERNO” Directed and Shot by Dhruba Dutta based on journalistic research by Anupam Chakravartty is the first film in the “StoriesAsia ShortDocs” program. The film tells the story of the people who continue to face the calamity and attempts to look at how oil & gas rigs arrived in this region known for its rich agricultural fields, diverse flora & fauna of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park & it’s eco-sensitive zone. https://www.storiesasia.org/2020/07/06/shortdocs-oils-inferno/  (06 July 2020)

Biodiversity impact on Dibru Saikhowa wetlands This fascinating report provides great details and exposes several key issues around ongoing OIL well blow out close to Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Upper Assam. https://longform.storiesasia.org/the-devastation-assam-blowout-caused

Baghjan fire off, impacts to linger The fire’s proximity to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park & the Maguri-Motapung Beel wetlands, its forced evacuation of over 2,500 people, mean the harm to both biodiversity & livelihoods will linger, experts have warned. https://theswaddle.com/the-assam-oil-fire-is-doused-but-its-damage-is-ongoing/ (17 Nov 2020)

Securing wetlands for safe passages of migratory birds The Brahmaputra valley has a distinctive natural environment that depends largely on wetlands. The innumerable freshwater lakes (locally called beels), ox-bow lakes, marshy tracts and thousands of ponds and tanks used to hold water almost throughout the year and are vital to water needs and food production. A number of factors have been responsible for the rapid decline in wetland ecosystem that include urbanization, siltation, overfishing, human interference, land and water grabs, decrease in freshwater inflow, choking of lagoon mouths due to silt deposition, fragmentation and degradation of habitat, environmental contaminants, hunting, land use patterns, changes in aquatic vegetation, pollution and development projects. Migratory water-birds – ducks, geese and swans, cranes and rails, storks, ibises and spoonbills, flamingos, gulls, terns, skimmers, pelicans, grebes, cormorants, herons and egrets, gannets, divers, waders, tropic and frigate birds – ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least a part of their annual life cycle.

Assam comes seventh in terms of the area covered by wetlands, while it tops the list when it comes to freshwater wetlands in the whole of India – according to the study Ardrabhumi Aru Asom (Wetlands & Assam) by Prof Kaliprasad Sarma of the Dept of Env Science, Tezpur University. Some 1,367 are facing serious threats to their existence. The most rapid has been the decline in natural wetlands, the study found. https://nenow.in/environment/securing-wetlands-for-safe-passages-of-migratory-birds.html (3 Dec 2020)

Shrinking Deepor Beel The area of the beel was about 6,000 ha in the late 1980s, hydrological experts said. “Satellite imagery makes it apparent that Deepor Beel is shrinking fast and since 1991, at least 35% of its water coverage area has declined. This is primarily because the wetland is losing connectivity with small rivers like Kalmoni, Khonajan & Basistha that used to flow via the Mora Bharalu channel,” Bibhav Talukdar of green group Aaranyak said. Expansion of the city, encroachment upon the natural channels through Guwahati & from the hills around and a municipal waste dump at Boragaon almost on the edge of the wetland are factors, he added. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/conservationists-concerned-over-assams-shrinking-ramsar-site/article30724405.ece (3 Feb. 2020)

EAST INDIA

Odisha 146 Irrawaddy dolphins sighted in Chilika Forest Dept officials, wildlife experts and researchers on Jan. 19 sighted 146 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilika Lake. The last census has recorded 151 Irrawaddy dolphins.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/146-irrawaddy-dolphins-sighted-in-chilika/article30600863.ece  (20 Jan. 2020)

W Bengal Brazen attempt by plastic mafia to grab wetlands unused bheri The EKWMA has asked police to look into an alleged attempt to convert a fish farm — or bheri — near Bantala into a plastic waste collection centre following a written complaint from an NGO that works among fish-farm workers in the wetlands. According to the complaint that was accompanied by photographs, trees have been axed and overgrowth has been cleared at Kari Ghosh Bheri in Dakshin Dhapa Manpur mouza in the heart of EKW — a Ramsar site — that is internationally recognized for its wise use in fish farming. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/brazen-attempt-by-plastic-mafia-to-grab-wetlands-unused-bheri/articleshow/78468848.cms (4 Oct 2020)

Fisherman of the Sundarbans | Courtesy of Sundip Nandy (CC BY-SA 4.0)/ The Bastion.

Creating Resilient Livelihoods in the Sundarbans, Sans Embankments Cyclone Amphan has reportedly incurred a financial loss of ₹1 lakh crore in W Bengal, which also includes the breaching of the river embankments–or concrete structures that prevent saline water from entering crop fields. Not only is their reconstruction expensive, it also impacts agriculture for years to come. But as climate scientists warn, cyclones will be frequent visitors in this region. Can the Sunderbans continue with this viciously expensive cycle of construction of embankments, destruction by cyclones, and reconstruction? Or can it be reimagined to make livelihoods resilient?  https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/creating-resilient-livelihoods-in-the-sundarbans-sans-embankments/  (10 June 2020)

Sundarban Delta Are Dying A Slow Death Sundari trees, after which the mangrove forest is named, are on the brink of extinction due to excessive logging in the past for its high value wood & now with seawater rise. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-sundari-trees-in-sundarban-delta-are-dying-a-slow-death-is-anyone-listening/354131 (4 June 2020)

WEST INDIA

Gujarat Another Flamingo city 35 km from flamingo city in Kutch identified 70 yrs ago by Salim Ali and 30 km from Pak border, a new flamingo city has been identified this season with close to 4 lakh greater or lesser (majority) flamingos. 2 lakh chicks are expected at the new city in addition to 1.2 lakh at the existing flamingo city. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/gujarat-another-flamingo-city-in-the-making/articleshow/77956689.cms   (6 Sep 2020)

Madhya Pradesh Bhopal’s development plan could kill its upper lake Two proposed roads around its periphery could choke the water body designated under the Ramsar Convention. https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/why-bhopal-s-development-plan-could-kill-its-upper-lake-1713381-2020-08-20  (20 Aug. 2020)

Water cultivators facing existential crisis The Kusum Sagar talaab (water body) supports a variety of foods that grow in water, like water chestnuts, lotus stem and kishurua, a sweet-tasting fruit that grows in the roots of water plants. Wheat and paddy are also grown in the lake bed when most of the lake is drained for irrigation. The story of the 100 families of the Raikwad community dependent on the Kusum Sagar Talab in Imlaha, a village in Chhatarpur district. https://india.mongabay.com/2020/01/water-food-cultivators-in-madhya-pradesh-face-existential-crisis/  (27 Jan. 2020)

SOUTH INDIA

Tamil Nadu Celebrating the Ennore-Pulicat wetland system “The Ennore-Pulicat wetland system can’t be slotted into our usual divisional categories of ecosystems. There are coastal dunes, backwaters, salt pans, mudflats, mangrove forests, tropical dry evergreen forest and scrub jungle. The salinity in the Pulicat lagoon created by barrier islands is known to hit an incredibly low number during the monsoon due to freshwater inflows. And the diverse elements come together in a rare mix of land, water and vegetation,” says naturalist M Yuvan, also a volunteer-guide.

He adds, “Kosasthalaiyar river breaks into various distributory streams, meeting the backwaters, and the gradient from freshwater to brackish water is gradual. Therefore, there is a continuum of ecologies and livelihoods based on them. Fishing is a broad term encompassing many local economies.” https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/in-the-ennore-pulicat-wetlands-livelihoods-depend-heavily-on-the-areas-biodiversity/article30851988.ece  (18 Feb. 2020)

Activists protest wetland encroachment by PSUs Central & state Public Sector Units (PSUs) have encroached upon 262 ha of the Kosasthalai River’s backwaters in Ennore since the disastrous floods of 2015, as per a report by Save Ennore Creek Campaign.

The report highlighted that central govt PSUs, including Kamarajar Port, NTECL Vallur & Bharat Petroleum had converted 167 has into industrial real estate since 2015. TIDCO’s poly park – a plastics industrial estate – encroached into the remaining 95 ha of tidal wetlands. https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/psus-encroach-667-acres-of-ennore-pulicat-wetlands-21546 (20 Nov 2020)

40% of Vedanthangal bird sanctuary to become ‘commercial’? About 30 ha of Vedanthangal lake and 5 km of revenue land around the lake was notified as Vedanthangal Birds Sanctuary on July 8, 1998.  Now, the 5 km buffer is being reduced to 3 km. The present proposal is the 5 km zone surrounding the main lake area of 29.51 ha of Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary to be brought down to 3 km in which first 1 km zone may be notified as Core Zone, including the lake. The next 2 km boundary may be notified as buffer zone and outer 2 km zone of the existing 5 km shall be de-notified.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2020/jun/03/40-per-cent-of-vedanthangal-bird-sanctuary-to-become-commercial-2151556.html (3 June 2020)

Illegal landfills take life out of Muttukadu backwaters Located about 30 km south of Chennai, Muttukadu usually lures boating enthusiasts. Of late, the water body has been attracting another kind of visitors — trucks filled with garbage. A total of five unauthorised landfills have cropped-up on the banks of the water body between the boathouse and Navalur, where tonnes of solid waste is piling up.

Indiscriminately dumped waste near Muttukadu backwaters | DEBADATTA MALLICK/TNIE

With the northeast monsoon around the corner, all this waste is waiting to enter the waterbody and eventually the Bay of Bengal through Kovalam estuary.  The depth of the backwater has also significantly reduced due to heavy siltation and plastic pollution, from the earlier 30 feet, it has dropped to 2-4 feet. There is a lot of toxic and contagious bio-medical waste.

As part of a project by the MoEF, the WII has recognised Muttukadu backwaters as Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas (ICMBAs) along with 15 other sites in Tamil Nadu including Pulicat, Pichavaram, Vedaranyam swamp, Palk Bay, Muthupet, etc.

Ravi Kumar, a fisherman from Kovalam village said they have stopped fishing in Muttukadu due to poor quality of the catch. “The fish, prawns & crabs that are caught here stink like sewer. The catch has become so unhygienic that we can’t sell it. 10 years back, this was brimming with life. Migratory birds were frequent visitors. Now, their numbers have drastically reduced,” he said.

There are allegations from locals that a township in the area, spread over 100 acres, is releasing sewage into Muttukadu backwaters. A stormwater drain coming from township could be seen discharging the sewage into the backwater. Residents said that the STP of the township was not being maintained properly. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2020/oct/12/another-cooum-in-the-making-illegal-landfills-take-life-out-of-muttukadu-backwaters-2209018.html  (12 Oct. 2020)

Kerala Opposition to construction of road through wetlands, beach The Kozhikode District Environmental Committee has opposed the construction of a road by filling wetlands and destroying mangroves on the Thottada beach, which is under the Edakkad zonal office of the Kannur Corp. A meeting on Jan. 8 2021, alleged that the road is being built with an eye on real estate business. “If the road is built, the entire ecological belt in Kannur district will be destroyed. The areas is home to several rare species of flora and fauna and is a habitat for migratory birds,” said Mr. Vishalakshan.

The meeting observed that the proposed road would lead to the collapse of the Thottada beach which was featured on the world tourism map. The activists visited the area and filed a petition with the Dist Collector. On Jan 14, a biodiversity study will be conducted in the area led by V.C. Balakrishnan, a leading biodiversity researcher. The meeting urged the State Biodiversity Board and the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority to intervene urgently.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/greens-oppose-construction-ofroad-through-wetlands-beach/article30514472.ece  (8 Jan. 2020)

Rare strawberry finch spotted at Akkulam Lake The spotting of the Strawberry Finch, also called Red Avadavat or Red Munia, highlights the urgent need for conservation and protection of Akkulam Lake. Urbanisation & pollution have been posing a huge threat to the lake. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/rarely-seen-strawberry-finch-spotted-at-akkulam-lake/article30855102.ece  (19 Feb. 2020)

Disappearing wetlands; changing landscape affecting birds population Disappearing wetlands and changing landscape is affecting bird population and habitats, says the report which calls for conservation measures and more data to look at long-term trends. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/kochi-disappearing-wetlands-and-changing-landscape-affecting-population/articleshow/74202311.cms  (19 Feb. 2020)

Demand to protect stream, wetland The execution of the second phase of the Thiruvalla bypass that passes through the core area of the Ramanchira wetland needs much care and foresight to avert calamities, say A.J.John, psychiatrist, T.K.Koshy, and Jossey, Ramanchira Protection Council (RPC) leaders. Developers have already started construction work at Ramanchira. Two streams that act as flood escape routes from the Ramanchira wetland to the opposite side of MC Road are under threat of conversion. A sizeable stretch of the Ramanchira stream has already been converted or encroached upon. Repeated pleas to protect the wetland and the stream have not been acted upon, the RPC leaders said. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/steps-sought-to-protect-stream-wetland/article30987656.ece (5 March 2020)

Telangana Untreated waste killing 416 lakes The govt has identified 416 lakes as polluted and found that the major cause of their pollution is untreated sewage, municipal waste, including plastic, and construction waste being discharged into these. The State generates 2,453 MLD of sewage but has the capacity to treat only 858 MLD at its STPs. the State govt has taken up restoration works in 279 of the 416 polluted lakes under Mission Kakatiya. Also, the construction of 98 STPs, with a total capacity of 1,629.4 MLD, has been envisaged to bridge the gap of 1,595 MLD between the sewage generated & treated, requiring Rs 6,994 cr.

Telangana generates 8,993 TPD (tonnes per day) of solid waste and the gap between the generated and treated waste is 2,493 TPD. The govt has identified 46,531 ponds & lakes, & sanctioned the restoration of 27,625 under Mission Kakatiya, it informed the CPCB. So far, restoration work has been completed in 21,436 water bodies & is underway in 6,195.

Of the 25 States and six Union Territories that have submitted their reports to the CPCB, the total identified water bodies across India, including lakes, ponds and tanks, are 4,13,911. Of these, 1,32,080 have been selected for restoration and 40,543 are currently being restored.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2020/oct/31/untreated-waste-killing-416-lakes-in-telangana-2217270.html  (31 Oct. 2020)

Pondicherry Photographers highlight Puducherry’s ecology On World Wetlands Day, as part of Pondicherry Heritage Festival 2020, a free photography contest was organised to raise public awareness on the cultural and natural heritage value of regional wetlands by the French Institute of Pondicherry, on the theme of Wetlands & Biodiversity in Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/on-world-wetland-day-witness-the-wetlands-of-pondicherry/article30726812.ece/photo/3/  (03 Feb. 2020)

STUDIES, REPORTS

1/3rd of its natural wetlands lost in 4 decades India has lost nearly one-third of its natural wetlands to urbanisation, agricultural expansion and pollution over the last four decades, a study by non-government organisation Wetlands International South Asia (WISA) has found.

India has lost nearly one-third of its natural wetlands to urbanisation, agricultural expansion and pollution over the last four decades.(Praful Gangurde/ HT Photo)

According to the report released on Jan. 30 ahead of the World Wetlands Day on February 2, Mumbai has lost maximum weltands (71%) — from 1970 to 2014. Other major cities that faced wetland loss include Ahmedabad (57%), Bengaluru (56%), Hyderabad (55%), Delhi and National Capital Region (38%), and Pune (37%). Mumbai wetland cover has gone down from 4.58 sq km to 1.3 sq km and Delhi-NCR’s from 2.21 sq kms to 1.36 sq kms during this period. WISA’s report is based on analysis of satellite images of land use & land data of 22 cities.

WISA underlined that wetland loss needs to be seen not just as a biodiversity crisis but as a development crisis manifesting into increased water, food and climate insecurity. “An ecosystem health assessment of wetlands under a 100-day programme of the Centre indicated that one in every four wetlands had low to a very low ecosystem health and high to very high threats,” he said, referring to overall ecological health of wetlands in the country. A draft report of the environment ministry in Dec 2019 had listed 42 of the 100 top wetlands in high risk category facing threat from encroachment & high human interference.

India has maximum wetlands in South Asia—7.7 lakh—covering the country’s 4.6% geographical area, according to Wetland International, the parent body of WISE. The number of wetlands in India is only next to Japan and China in Asia. India is home to 37 Ramsar sites that are home to over 5,000 species of flora and fauna. They represent at least 23% reptiles, 13% amphibians, 23% fish, 65% birds & 26% of mammalian species in the country, according to MoEF website. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/india-lost-one-third-of-its-natural-wetlands-from-1970-to-2014/story-QmhTehlWAcep0cSHdbzufI.html  (31 Jan. 2020)

Wetlands destruction leads to water, food, climate insecurity The loss of wetlands in urban areas has been more rapid. Data from 26 cities and towns show that since 1970s, for every one square kilometre increase in built up area, 25 ha of wetlands has been lost. But the defence of the Wetlands Rule 2017 is totally misleading.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/destruction-of-wetlands-will-lead-to-water-food-and-climate-insecurity/story-piU8FppnVzxsuxxnPrWGfI.html  (02 Feb. 2020)  

Why wetlands matter The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) the global assessment identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem. This impacts 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands, according to UNESCO. Thirty per cent of land-based carbon is stored in peatland; one billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihoods; and wetlands provide $47 trillion in essential services annually.

“In Feb. 2017, the Court extended protection to 201,503 of these under Rule 4 of the 2010 Rules, and ordered authorities to notify sites. The wetlands were supposed to have been notified by March 25, 2019, 180 days after the 2017 Rules went into force (Sep 26, 2017). Yet so far, not a single wetland has been notified,” Anand Arya said. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-wetlands-matter-to-world-and-india-6248015/  (3 Feb. 2020)

Fate of wetlands: The absurd CRZ Amendment 2020 Since its inception, multiple amendments with relaxations were issued over the last 20 years, thereby diluting the very essence of CRZ regulations. The latest dated May 1, 2020 is probably yet another nail in the coffin. With this, the CRZ regulations have lost the ecological sanctity that it was meant to uphold.  https://www.heraldgoa.in/Edit/Fate-of-wetlands-The-absurd-CRZ-Amendment-2020/161104  (28 May 2020)

Compiled by SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)  

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